16. West Germany 1 Argentina 0
Stadio Olimpico, Rome (8 July 1990)
A repeat of the wonderful final of four years previously, sadly that’s all those two finals have in common. It is quite simply the worst post-war World Cup final of the lot.
In an ill-tempered encounter, Argentina’s Pedro Monzón became the first man to be dismissed in a World Cup final. Teammate Gustavo Dezotti followed him on 87 minutes after a second bookable offence described by the New York Times as a “neck tackle right out of professional wrestling”. This was compacted by the fact that Argentina were already missing four players through suspension.
The lowest-scoring final ever at that point, Argentina managed one shot on target all game, West Germany’s goal came cutesy of a controversial penalty. There is winning ugly, then there’s this crap.
15. Brazil 0 Italy 0 (3-2 on pens)
Rose Bowl, Pasadena (17 July 1994)
I mean let’s face it; the abiding memory of the 1994 World Cup final is Roberto Baggio’s penalty, which reports say is still in near orbit. In the most bizarre piece of foreshadowing the World Cup has ever witnessed Diana Ross blazed an oversized football over the crossbar during the opening ceremony not that dissimilar to “Divine Ponytail’s” effort.
After a dour 120 minutes which produced zero goals or anything of note, the game went to penalties; the first World Cup final to be decided by spot kicks and that’s its only lasting legacy. The only reason is doesn’t finish bottom is because its immediate predecessor was a nightmarish experience straight out of Kafka.
14. Brazil 3 Czechoslovakia 1
Estadio Nacional, Santiago (17 June 1962)
Of all Brazil’s five World Cup successes this is by far their least memorable. Sure 1994 was a dour game devoid of any goals, never mind action, but at least Roberto Baggio gave it an enduring image.
The tournament itself is memorable for Pelé’s premature exit due to injury which left Garrincha to weave his magic and come to his nation’s rescue. It was also the first World Cup where the goals-per-game average fell below 3 (2.78), and has never been above it since.
13. Netherlands 0 Spain 1 (a.e.t.)
Soccer City, Johannesburg (11 July 2010)
The Battle of Stalingrad has nothing on this bloodbath. The final saw a record number of bookings, more than double the previous record when Argentina and West Germany in 1986 shared six yellow cards. Remarkably only one man was dismissed, John Heitinga of the Netherlands.
The game was flooded with bookings and blood but no goals. 0-0 at 90 minutes the game went to extra-time where Andrés Iniesta finally broke the deadlock four minutes before the end. When the abiding image of the final is Nigel de Jong’s chest-high kick on Xabi Alonso you know the football wasn’t good.
12. Italy 3 West Germany 1
Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid (11 July 1982)
It’s unfair that this final is largely forgotten or overlooked. 1982 was a fantastic tournament and the fact that both sides were involved in two of the greatest World Cup games in history may not have helped. In the second group stage Italy beat a Brazil side with Zico and Sócrates 3-2, while West Germany beat France in a pulsating semi-final encounter that went to penalties after the scores finished level at 3-3.
The final in comparison was routine. Italy dominated to such an extent that missing a penalty in the first-half did not seem to deter them. Goals from Golden Ball winner Paolo Rossi, Alessandro Altobelli and, most memorably, Marco Tardelli gave Italy a 3-0 lead. A late consolation goal from Paul Breitner was not enough for the Germans, as Italy joined Brazil on three world titles.
11. Germany 0 Brazil 2
International Stadium, Yokohama (30 June 2002)
This was Ronaldo’s final, his ultimate shot at redemption and he grabbed it with both hands. Largely unfancied before the tournament, Germany were perhaps the least likely of the European contingent to grace the final but they survived any shock results and, most significantly, halted the march of South Korea in the semi-finals.
Oliver Kahn, brilliant all tournament, had a nightmare final. Deadlocked at half-time a second-half brace from Ronaldo was enough to secure a fifth World Cup title for Brazil and banish his personal demons of Paris four years previously.
10. Italy 1 France 1 (5-3 on pens)
Olympiastadion, Berlin (9 July 2006)
Sadly another final that will forever be remembered by one moment, one image: Zinedine Zidane’s headbutt. That said this was one of the better finals. During the opening stages of the game it seemed that it would be France’s to lose, after winning a penalty, which Zidane promptly converted and in some style, too.
Before 20 minutes had even elapsed that other figure that looms large over this final, Marco Materazzi equalised with a powerful header from an Andrea Pirlo corner. However we have to mention that moment of utter madness in extra-time. Materazzi, after saying some unpleasant things about Zidane’s sister, was on the receiving end of the most infamous headbutt in the sport. Materazzi got his paws on the World Cup trophy while Zidane ended his glittering career in shame.
9. Brazil 0 France 3
Stade de France, Saint-Denis (12 July 1998)
If 2002 was memorable for all the right reasons for Ronaldo, 1998 was in complete contrast. A mystery to this day, there was much speculation regarding the Brazilian striker’s health after his omission from the team-sheet, only to be named in the starting line-up moments before kick-off. His presence needn’t have mattered.
Looking very unfit, Ronaldo was ineffectual as France romped into a 2-0 lead thanks to the head (the good kind) of Zinedine Zidane. Emmanuel Petit’s goal in the second-half wrapped up proceedings, as the whole of France went into party mode. It’s unfair that this final is overshadowed by Ronaldo when France’s “golden generation” actually delivered and would confirm their status as one of the all-time great teams two years later by winning the Euros in Rotterdam.
8. Brazil 5 Sweden 2
Råsunda Stadium, Solna (29 June 1958)
The highest-scoring final in World Cup history was witnessed by the lowest attendance ever at a World Cup final. Just 52,000 people witnessed Brazil begin a 12-year domination of the World Cup, in which they would only relinquish hold of the trophy once. Just think about it; only 52,000 witnessed Pelé’s emergence as the world’s greatest footballer, that goal, I could go on.
Despite having the home crowd behind them, Sweden were second best from the outset. They did take the lead, through Nils Liedholm, but this didn’t last long. Brazil were only 2-1 at half-time but the second-half was flooded with goals. Pelé completed the rout on the 90-minute mark with a header. Brazil 5 Sweden, what a spectacle it must have been.
7. Netherlands 1 West Germany 2
Olympiastadion, Munich (7 July 1974)
They were so close, the Dutch were! The Netherlands burst out of the blocks, winning a very early penalty after Johan Cruyff was brought down in the area by Uli Hoeneß. The other Johan, Neeskens converted it to give the Dutch a lead over the hosts. 23 minutes later the Germans equalised through a Paul Breitner penalty.
Two minutes before half-time Gerd Müller scored his last ever international goal to give West Germany the lead. The second-half did not produce any more goals and so the hosts held onto their one-goal lead to beat the favourites. West Germany’s defensive might won the game but very few admirers, the Dutch on the other hand won many admirers but no trophy.
6. Argentina 3 Netherlands 1
Estadio Monumental, Buenos Aires (25 June 1978)
Another final from the 1970s surely means more Dutch misery at the hands of the hosts. This final is steeped in controversy. Argentina arrived on the field late, meaning the match kicked off later than planned. René van de Kerkhof’s plaster cast was highlighted by the Argentinian team as a potential health hazard to their players, despite being passed by FIFA. Eventually the match started.
Much of the final itself is not that memorable but the dying seconds and subsequent extra-time are. Mario Kempes gave Argentina the lead in the first-half before the Dutch finally equalised with eight minutes to go. Rob Rensenbrink, the forgotten man of Dutch football, rolled a shot that hit the post. The game went to extra-time where Mario Kempes bagged a second and Bertoni secured the win. The Netherlands refused to attend the post-match ceremonies after all that had happened earlier.
5. Argentina 3 West Germany 2
Estadio Azteca, Mexico City (29 June 1986)
If tonight’s final is as good as this, we are in for a treat. Argentina’s march to the final was orchestrated by Diego Maradona. He was their all-important player, the Germans knew that and so took provisions to stop him.
Despite Maradona being heavily man-marked, Argentina opened up a 2-0 lead through José Luis Brown and Jorge Valdano but the Germans were never one to lie down and take a beating. In a pulsating final 15 minutes Karl-Heinz Rummenigge began the comeback on 74 minutes before Rudi Völler completed it on 81 but Maradona only needs one moment of magic.
His superb through ball from midfield found Jorge Burruchaga who put the ball in the back of the net with five minutes remaining. He had done it, Maradona had saved Argentina’s bacon yet again.
4. Brazil 4 Italy 1
Estadio Azteca, Mexico City (21 June 1970)
Let’s face it, it wasn’t much of a contest but this final is tattooed in the footballing psyche as it saw some of the most awe-inspiring football ever produced. Pelé’s header, Carlos Alberto’s goal; this final is in essence a highlights reel in itself.
Remarkably the game was tied at 1-1 at half-time, with Pelé’s opener matched by Roberto Boninsegna, who capitalised on Félix’s howler. The second 45 minutes was a masterclass from the Brazilians. Their free-flowing style bewildered overpowered the Italians who could only watch on and perhaps admire the pinnacle of joga bonita. Goals from Gérson, Jairzinho and of course Carlos Alberto completed the greatest team performance the world has ever seen.
3. England 4 West Germany 2
Wembley Stadium, London (30 July 1966)
In strictly footballing terms, this is without doubt the most controversial World Cup final of the lot. Like many of the finals, the scores were level at half-time and the real action came in the second 45 minutes or in this case, 95 minutes.
In the 78th minute Martin Peters added to Geoff Hurst’s first to give England a 2-1 lead and the game appeared to be going that way, that is until the Germans mounted their usual comeback. West Germany’s second was a messy goalmouth scramble, which Wolfgang Weber got on the end of. The game went to extra-time.
11 minutes in Alan Ball’s cross found Geoff Hurst, whose close-range shot hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced down on the line. The referee was unsure whether the ball had actually crossed the line and as such consulted the most famous Russian linesman in English football, Tofiq Bahramov (he was actually born in what is now Azerbaijan). Bahramov maintained it did pass the line and the goal was given. One minute before the game was to blown up, Bobby Moore’s clearing pass found Geoff Hurst who completed the only ever World Cup final hat-trick.
England lifted the Jules Rimet Trophy for the first time, thanks to a phantom goal that has since been proven not to have passed the line. If they sold their soul to the devil that day, they have been paying back for it ever since with their weight in penalty shoot-outs.
2. Uruguay 2 Brazil 1 (de facto final)
Estádio do Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro (16 July 1950)
Not the highest scoring World Cup final there has ever been but in terms of its cultural impact no other final even comes close to its legendary status in the game. In essence this wasn’t a final, rather a group game. The four group winners advanced to a second group stage. The team on top after three games would lift the Jules Rimet Trophy.
The hosts Brazil were overwhelming favourites. Despite stuttering through their group, beating Mexico and Yugoslavia but drawing with Switzerland, Brazil were rampant in the final round. They racked up 13 goals in massive wins over Sweden (7-1) and Spain (6-1). The final game against Uruguay was expected to go the same way. Uruguay were one point behind the hosts heading into the final group game. Anything less than a win for Uruguay would see Brazil become the new world champions.
The press and Brazilian public had already anointed their national side as world champions before a ball was even kicked, and at the time very few could blame them. After all Brazil had ripped Sweden and Spain a new one; this game against their neighbours seemed a mere formality. Brazilian newspaper O Mundo even printed an early edition on the day of the final with a photo of the team which had “These are the world champions” as a caption. This incensed Uruguayan captain Obdulio Varela so much he bought as many copies as possible and laid them on his bathroom floor. He then encouraged his teammates to urinate on them. Officially 174,000 crammed into the Maracanã but in reality this figure was much closer to 200,000, a record which stands to this day and appears never will be broken.
The first half saw Brazil utilise the tactic that had served them so well in the tournament up to that point; attack. Unlike the Swedish and Spanish, Uruguay maintained their defence and held strong until half-time.
The match appeared to go according to plan two minutes into the second-half as Friaça gave the Brazilians the lead. Uruguay then turned the tide and took control of the game. As Uruguay began to attack Brazil’s defence, their frailty in that area of the field began to become apparent. On 66 minutes Juan Schiaffino scored the equaliser. Not ideal for the partisan crowd but as things stood Brazil would still win the World Cup by a point.
11 minutes from time disaster struck as Alcides Ghiggia scored the goal that plunged the Maracanã into a deathly silence, one which would fester until the referee George Reader blew it up. In the initial aftermath many in the crowd simply refused to accept what had happened. The players were vilified for their role in what was widely deemed a national tragedy. Brazil’s white shirts were never worn again, having been deemed unpatriotic. They were replaced by those famous yellow shirts three years later.
1. West Germany 3 Hungary 2
Wankdorf Stadium, Berne (4 July 1954)
Well this is it; the greatest World Cup final that has ever been played. Hungary’s “Mighty Magyars” were the greatest team of the day, West Germany on the other hand were a team made up of amateurs from a nation still trying to come to terms with the economic and political fallout of World War II. These two had met earlier in the group stages, when Hungary recorded a comfortable 8-3 victory. The Germans were not given a hope of winning.
Hungary raced into a 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Ferenc Puskás and Zoltán Czibor. The pre-favourites seemed destined to lift the only international honour that has eluded them thus far. Germany however equalised in quick succession. Max Morlock struck on 10 minutes, while Helmut Rahn nabbed the equalised eight minutes later. Not even 20 minutes gone and it was already a pulsating encounter. The teams went in at half-time tied at 2-2.
The second-half remained scoreless until six minutes from time although it was the underdogs who scored. Helmut Rahn scored arguably the most famous goal in German football which gave them the lead for the first time. It seemed Puskás equalised four minutes later but it was deemed offside. Hungary’s four-year unbeaten run was over and West Germany completed one of the biggest upsets in football history.
The unexpected victory instilled a wave of euphoria throughout Germany, which was still suffering the scars of World War II. The final was also the first occasion where the German national team proved they are never truly beaten until the final whistle is blown. The 1954 World Cup win is regarded by a number of German historians as a turning point in their post-war history.
By Eoghan Wallace